This article talks about two posts, “Because: A Manifesto” and “Living What I Teach. Or Trying” which offered different manifestos about leaving academia. It tries to help you with the decision of whether you should stay or leave academia.
Last week, a seriously helpful discussion about leaving academia buzzed around the nonacademic community.
It was started by two young academics, grunts of the academic labour force, both who published two very different manifestos about leaving academia.
One decided to find a career beyond academia. The other made the plea to fix academia, to fight rather than just leave.
As I sat on my couch alternating between this little movement rising online and wanting to smash the teeth out of the cast of GLEE on TV (it was Tuesday and I only have basic cable), I felt something I haven’t felt for a long time. I felt bad about leaving academia.
For a moment, I wanted to go back.
Not to get tenure and to live in my comfy house with my books and fancy title.
Not to collect my cheque and froth at undergraduates about the poetics of fascism.
Not to be an intellectual.
Not to do anything, except to go with the tide which could, very soon, gain some momentum and push back at all the things wrong with academia.
It wouldn’t be easy. It would take a few years, a few firings, a few forced out of teaching.
But it is possible.
Life beyond academia. Or life within a failed tenure system.
Here, according to those posts, are the two options.
The first article called “because: a manifesto,” broke into a chant about the reasons why the author was leaving academia.
It captured in a few pages the sense of isolation, false hope, and failure of the entire academic system, an epic sinking of the graduate education ship that has left thousands of young, bright people stranded after ten years of institutional support.
Many of us feel strangely awake at the end of our programs. We thought that the last ten years had been a career direction.
Instead, we enter the unfamiliar world of the nonacademic workforce, with heavy debt, little earning power, our academic degrees and talents disposable.
Early life ambition and success (admission into a prestigious program) appears as a reverse image we didn’t expect to meet at the end of our long climb: a late-blooming adult loser with no career, house, savings, or relevant skill-set.
We know we have to leave academia. But we don’t know where to go.
Don’t leave academia. Fix it.
The second article, called “We Ain’t Got Nothin to Lose, Motherfucker,” told a different story.
It told of working in a place where the same people that will give feedback on your essays, and talk to you about the pleasures of thought and sit at your table in the cafeteria, are also the same people that won’t stand up for you in the faculty meetings.
This is the modern university.
The place where the tenured professor will spend his nights writing 5 books on the Other and lecturing about the crushing inequality of capitalism, but won’t devote a few nights a week helping to fix the workplace inequality that happens everyday in his department.
It also told of flying to the MLA conference with ‘ill-fitting suits’ bought on ‘ill-fitting credit,’ trying to look professional, trying to keep the face of a serious young scholar, trying to talk about the importance of pedagogy while you watch the future you built for 10 years dissolving in front of you.
I’m done. But not with academics. I’m done with not fighting. I’m done with protecting myself. I work with good people who deserve my support. I will no longer, to the best of my ability, participate in institutional injustice. I will put the interests of the group ahead of my own. I will no longer sit back and let my colleagues not be valued. I will fight until they are valued. And if they’re not, I will fight more.
Because I’d like to believe that if we all act together, for ONCE, for fucking ONCE, if we stop rolling over, start learning everything we can about our programs, our administrations, start listening to our colleagues, start making plans, start progressing, start trusting each other, this shit can change. We can keep the good teachers. We can have weekends with our families. We can have bank accounts. Love lives. Happiness.
Greater systems than academia have been overturned.
We could give that adjunct down the hall the pay cheque and job security he deserves. That you deserve.
We could end the misery of shipping families across the country to teach a few Shakespeare units in one town, a class on composition 101 in the next town, or to take a visiting professorship for a year and then pack the car up and move to the next faceless job in a college you’ve never heard of.
Back to the normal academic chatter.
Tonight, it’s gone.
I sit on my couch, flipping through my Twitter stream. The old articles come up.
The chatter of PhD students and adjuncts, tenured professors, independent scholars, a community of voices with not much to unite them except uncertainty about the future of academia.
Someone tweets an eloquent argument by some Dean to justify the value of the humanities. Cheers of agreement: the humanities does have value!
Another laments the end of print books. The aesthetic pleasure of books, nothing can replace that (the aesthetic pleasure of the ipad??).
Denial, frustration of young academics, the confusion of senior faculty who want to help, but in the end wander diligently down the hallway, close their door, and sit in their office, typing their next book.
The last tweet of the day limps in. An article from a major higher education website about how there are no jobs for new PhDs. Yes, we know. Thank-you.
The humanities doesn’t need . . .
Another argument amongst ourselves about the value of the humanities.
The humanities doesn’t need another 10 million dollar grant to create a few more positions, fund a few more grad students, and buy access to 500 journals that 10 doctoral students read.
Pouring more money into a hole. That won’t stop the tide.
It doesn’t need another grim report from the MLA.
Or another monograph. Another article. Another ten years of humanities scholars politely admitting that changes need to happen.
The humanities needs you.
Academia, the humanities, needs a few loud voices. People that are able to make decisions, not just gather facts and lament.
Just a few leaders to take the tribe somewhere else. Tenured professors, administrators, and the shareholders are a small, fringe group in the university now. It belongs to you.
More than that, tenured professors and administrators are just as tired, overworked, and under-appreciated as you. They are ready for change. They think about leaving academia too.
Your Supervisor’s job doesn’t exist anymore.
Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe these ideas won’t work.
But one thing is for sure: tenure, the glory of the post-war education boom, is gone. The world has changed.
And the humanities better make a move if it wants a place.
Is academia worth saving?
Some days, you are forced to pick a side.
One day soon, you will need to decide if you are going to follow us, the nonacademic sellouts.
Or, if you are going to stay and kick down some department doors with your friends and peers, turning a stupid, meaningless wheel of a system back into a place where you want to live.
The longer you wait to make this decision, the worse it will get.